William Deresiewicz tries his hand pinpointing what defines the Millennial Generation:
Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.
Call it Generation Sell.
Bands are still bands, but now they’re little businesses, as well: self-produced, self-published, self-managed. When I hear from young people who want to get off the careerist treadmill and do something meaningful, they talk, most often, about opening a restaurant. Nonprofits are still hip, but students don’t dream about joining one, they dream about starting one. In any case, what’s really hip is social entrepreneurship — companies that try to make money responsibly, then give it all away.
My take is that it’s perhaps not as much about selling stuff – though working in marketing and advertising has become sort of glorified – as it is about making stuff. We’ve seen a big rise in maker culture, crafting, urban farming, food carts (called food trucks outside of Portland), steampunk, a resurgence in print magazines (Coilhouse, Dodgem Logic) etc. A lot of the excitement is about making physical things, but making apps, websites and events is popular as well.
It is noteworthy thought that modern counter cultures seem to have business models built right in. As I’ve written before, bike culture is big business and a cottage industry of books and DVDs sprung up around the 9/11 Truth movement (I think these things have become more coopted than they were when I wrote that column in 2007, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post).
Deresiewicz only just touches on one important thing: the tendency he identified isn’t actually limited to millennials – it’s infected culture as a whole, at least in middle class North America (I’m reminded of this commentary by Gustavo Arellano who points out that none of this is actually new for Latin families living in the U.S). As I keep saying, this seems to be more of a broad cultural shift rather than a generational difference.
Update: Looks like TechCrunch has a similar take.
(Photo by maggiekate)